and you thought i was finished posting about the irish. nope! that’s why darth is still up there ↑ sipping his guinness! (~_^)
however, this will be the second-to-the-last — or penultimate for those of you who like to use fancy, foreign loan words (my oed says it came from the french in the 1600s) — post on the irish. i promise. in this current series anyway. (again, if you don’t know what this is all about, you might want to start by reading what’s this all about?)
what do we have so far on the history of native irish mating patterns and family types and societal structures?:
- the medieval irish were clannish, from early in the period (and probably going back into the iron age, too) right through to at least the late-1500s. they actually lived in clans which were called fines. these fines did start to dissipate toward the end of the period, but compared to elsewhere in europe at the time (like england), the medieval irish were very, very clannish.
- the medieval irish regularly married very closely, from early in the period right through, again, to at least the late-1500s. they married cousins (possibly paternal cousins, although i don’t know that for certain), aunts, uncles … they married close. to the great annoyance of the church in rome.
- something undoubtedly happened in ireland between the late-1500s and the 1800s, but i don’t know what, because i haven’t gone to the library yet.
- by the 1800s, the irish were no longer living in clans (fines), but extended families were important, and clannishness was evident in the “faction fighting” that happened during the 1700 and 1800s in ireland. faction fights were ongoing feuds between various sets of extended families and their allies.
- lots of irish folk songs from the 1700 and 1800s were related to drinking and fighting.
so, the irish did become less clannish over time from the middle ages until the modern period — actual clans disappeared to be replaced by connections between extended family members, and the people lived more in stem family households rather than extended family households (although this was probably an imposition from the outside as the english authorities altered most of the landholding and inheritance laws in late medieval/early modern ireland — and even after ireland became an independent state, it retained much of the anglo legal system). it’s likely that the mating patterns also shifted, and that the roman catholic church’s cousin marriage bans came to be more strictly enforced, but i still need to check that.
now, mating patterns, family types, and clannishness in twentieth century ireland.
by the early twentieth century, the irish in ireland generally avoided first cousin marriage, although second cousin marriage did happen not infrequently. in some more remote places, however, first cousin marriages were quite common, but these were odd pockets of populations and were not typical of the general population. people lived in stem family housesholds (that’s a nuclear family with grandparents), but the extended family — out to second cousins — was important. the faction fighting of previous centuries was gone, but (and i’m getting ahead of myself here) nepotism and patronage [pg. 18+] were common, even into the twenty-first century (recall that ireland is one of the piiggs).
a couple of anthropologists, conrad m. arensberg and solon t. kimball, headed to ireland in the 1930s (i think it was) and studied family and community life in county clare. here are some lengthy excerpts from their book, Family and Community in Ireland [pgs. 77-78, 83-86 - links added by me]:
“The second [the word 'friend'] in ordinary rural usage refers not to a comrade, as in English, but to one’s relatives. Even in the towns, one’s father, mother, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, are referred to as ‘immediate friends.’ In the countryside one speaks of one’s kinsmen as one’s ‘friends,’ particularly if they occupy one’s own generation; one’s father’s relatives, even his brothers, become ‘my father’s friends.’ A ‘distant friend’ refers not to distance in space but to that in cousinship….
“[T]he Irish family is patrilocal and patronymic, to use the technical terms. Farm, house, and most of the household goods descend from father to son with the patronym; we shall follow their general movement in a later section.
“This patrilineal descent gives a certain accent upon the kinship system; it chooses one line of descent out of the many possible and gives those who make it up a common name. There is a reflection of this fact in the groupings of Irish rural life. To outsiders a person may be known as ‘a boy of the Shannons’ or a ‘man of the Flaherties,’ but in a sense these groupings are merely linguistic conveniences. For in many cases two families of Shannons may live side by side, yet not be considered ‘friends.’ None of the obligations of kinship bind them. For in the phrase of the countryman: ‘They are not the same Shannons or, if they are, they are too far out….’
“[T]he kindred are the group within which marriage is prohibited….
“In country regions, such as Luogh, nearly all of the families are united by complicated, reduplicated bonds of marriage and descent….
“[T]he descent is carried a step further back to a common great-grandparent. Marriage taboos and extended family obligations go backward and upward with the reckoning. Thus second cousins are recognized as being within the kindred and within the prohibited degrees. In fact, in the authors’ experience the obligations of cooring and ‘friendliness’ were equally strong with them….
“[B]oth the Church and Irish rural society reckon descent bilaterally; all possible roots, male and female, are counted. In that case, the count gives thirty-two kinship personalities in ego’s own generation who come within this group of first and second cousins. These can all be counted as cousins or ‘friends.’ They are within the range of *col* or marriage taboo. They make up the extended family whose behavior we have examined above….
“Consanguinity is carried one step further by the Church. As a barrier to marriage, or diriment impediment, it extends to the ‘fourth degree.’ This includes the group taken from a common descent yet a generation higher. It brings in those relatives known in English as third cousins….”
note that this is no longer the case in the roman catholic church. today only first cousin marriages are prohibited.
“The bounds of the consanguine group are naturally not rigid in this type of extensional structure. There is a gradation of intensity in the taboo as it extends toward the peripheral relatives. First and second cousins, to use the more convenient English terms, are tabooed, the first more strongly than the second. Third cousins, felt to be ‘very far out’ and sometimes ‘not counted’ by the Irish, are nevertheless formally tabooed by the Church. Yet dispensations can be obtained with relative ease for kindred of this degree. They are granted for all alliances within the system for ’cause’ inward even as far as first cousins and uncles and nieces, but never within the restricted family. When the dispensation of the Church is obtained, there is no feeling of horror at such marriages. They are, however, always felt to be anomalous and are a matter of comment. In the country areas where there is a necessity among the farmers of keeping farms and dowries within the extended family group, or where the introduction of an outsider is difficult because of class and regional antagonisms, marriages between first or second cousins are not uncommon. Nevertheless the general feeling of the community condemns this type of union. Too close intermarriage of this type is a common charge used by townsmen in condemning the country folk….”
“If the individual attempts to rise above his fellows or to forget them in his way upward, the cry immediately rises that he is ‘forgetting his friends.’ In fact, disloyalty to one’s kinship group is felt to be a deadly crime against the group.
“The Irish extended family, combining in different degrees of intensity of solidarity all descendants of a common ancestor through five contemporaneous generations, is not a rigidly defined structure set off from the other groups of society. On the contrary, the extended families present a picture of a series of interlocking pyramids in which each individual is assigned a definite place, but in which no two individuals (unless siblings) occupy quite the same place. It is a group of kindred reckoning common bilateral descent, and linking as equals all individuals occupying the same step within that descent to the number of five such steps…. It is in no sense a clan or gens, as its bounds are not constant, but descend and ascend through the total group of possible kindred….“
“Through the workings in and out of the interlocking series of pyramids mentioned above, an isolated area of small population can soon become inextricably intertangled. Hence in the poorest and most isolated regions we find the greatest amount of intermarriage. Evidence is not definite on this score, but the indications point in that direction….
“Through such intermingling, it very often happens that a comparatively large area will be peopled entirely by individuals standing within near degrees of kinship one to another. In such a case the local group attains the added solidarities of common kinship. To an outsider, such a group, closely integrated through kinship bonds, occupying the same general level of social stratification and the same general place in the economic system, and dominating a large or small area (sometimes as large as a parish), presents a united front. It exhibits a very effective solidarity against outsiders. It is this solidarity which gives rise to the assumption among outside observers that the clan still exists in rural Ireland. It is this solidarity, too, which expresses itself in the political cohesion of large sections of the countryside.”
here is an example of the mating patterns one of “the poorest and most isolated regions” in which was found “the greatest amount of intermarriage.” from some research done by nancy scheper-hughes (meh) in the 1970s on the dingle peninsula in ireland — some excerpts from Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland [pgs. 81, 179-181]:
“An intense rivalry separates Ballybran from its larger, sister parish of ‘Castlederry’ (i.e Castlegregory)…. Where Castlederry is neatly divided into class, religious, and ethnic boundaries, sporting a few token Protestant residents, the people of Ballybran like to make the ‘proud boast’ that there was never a ‘Black Protestant’ to dig his heels permanently into their native turf. Finally, where men from Castlederry frequently contract matches with women outside their parish, the men of Ballybran feel that a match with a second cousin or no match at all is preferable to marriage with a stranger….
“Because of the general mistrust of outsiders and the reluctance of village women to marry into the kitchen of a completely unknown mother-in-law, marriages have tended (until recently) to be parish endogamous. Within some isolated hamlet of Ballybran marriage options for generations have been limited to exchanges of women between the six or ten households that the townland comprises. ‘Marry on the dunghill and choose a sponsor from the mountain’ is a local proverb meaning that it is wisest to ‘marry in.’
“A preferred form of marriage in past generations was the ‘double match’ whereby a brother and sister married a brother and sister from a neighboring household. This arrangement was considered eminently fair, since neither household was deprived, even temporarily, of the labor of a woman and in such cases the dowry could be dispensed with. Unpopular marriages, which raise eyebrows and give scandal fall into several categories: a very old man taking a young bride; a widower with small children marrying any woman; a thrice-married widow or widower (‘a first marriage is honorable, a second marriage is excusable, a third marriage is disgraceful’); a ‘mixed marriage’ between a Protestant and a Catholic. All of these marriages are believed to produce bad *dutcas* (blood) in children born of the union.
“Because of generations of endogamy most parishioners are related to one another through blood or marriage or both. There is a certain amount of guilt associated with the inbreeding of the community, and some villagers will go so far as to deny a relationship to distant kin where parish records indicate that such is the case. In one hillside hamlet where six of nine households share the same surname, the O’Carrolls disclaimed one another, saying, ‘We’re all O’Carrolls all right, but not the same O’Carrolls.’
“The desire to keep relationships fuzzy is, in part, the result of an effort to conceal the number of cousin marriages in the parish. Despite the Roman Catholic Church’s incest prohibitions, second-degree-cousin marriages are not uncommon and are a favorite topic of malicious gossip. Although the parish priest or curate is responsible for searching the genealogies of prospective couples, and the publication of the banns of marriage is intended to uncover any impediments to a lawful Church marriage, the rural priest and his flock tend to be sympathetic to such dilemmas, and the details of kinship are often left hazy or ignored. In the rarer cases of first-cousin marriage, where the fear of God’s wrath and His punishment in the form of insanity to the offspring is strong, couples customarily delay the marriage until they are well past the childbearing age.
“As a consequence of parish endogamy, over 96 percent of all adult males are natives of the community, and 70 percent of the married women were born locally.“
compare this to, for example, the village of ely in cambridgeshire, england, in the 1300s where a full 50% of the marriages were to people outside the village. or that there are no dispensations for first cousin marriages in the available records from 1500s england.
“Of the nonnative women the majority have been brought in from neighboring parishes in southwest Kerry and from the towns of Dingle and Tralee. The remaining few women are natives of distant counties to the north, or they are from the midlands and married into the parish following a period of emigration to England. In these cases the marriage was the result of a determined and aggressive move on the part of those bachelor farmers who make a practice of spending their winters as laborers in English cities where they seek out disillusioned and homesick Irish nurses, waitresses, and clerks, anxious to return to Ireland at any cost. Such courtships and marriages are hastily contracted — often during one three-month winter season — in order to allow the couple to return to Ireland in early spring for the start of the new agricultural cycle. Frequently, these marriages turn out unhappily for the bride, who is not well received in the parish and who finds village life monotonous and boring. Such failure reinforce village beliefs about the benefits of marrying one’s own kind.”
and to close with an excerpt from arensberg and kimball — how did the early twentieth century irish extended families interact within themselves and towards outsiders? [pgs. 69-73]:
“The commonest form of cooperation is that which involves lending a boy to a ‘friend’ whenever he is needed….
remember that “friend” means family member (see above).
“About half the families had horse-drawn mowing machines. Those who had them mowed their own meadows as quickly as possible, working from earliest morning as long as light held. They worked with the aid of their sons and with that of boys from the families who had no machines of their own. At each subsequent stage of the harvesting, a boy or young man not a member of the family whose meadow was being worked could be seen giving his labor in aid; he took his place at meals during the day.
“The mowing done, the farmer then took his machine to the farmer whose son had helped him and mowed the meadows belonging to his friend. In one instance a youngish farmer mowed the meadows of three others; in another, of two….
“Here then was an example of an important agricultural operation undertaken by the local community in which provision was made (except in five or six cases) for effective cooperation over and above the usual family economy….
“Driven to social rather than economic explanation, the authors were able to ascertain that in each case of this cooperation there was an extended family relationship involved. Thus Carey, who had mowed the meadows of Dennis and Seamus Molony and Brian McMahon, was second cousin to them. Peter Barrett was first cousin and uncle respectively of the two farmers whose meadows he had mowed. The young men or boys who had worked Carey’s and Barrett’s meadows with the latter’s wives and children were also relatives; they were sons of the relative for whom Carey and Barrett had mowed.
“So it went over the townland. In no instance, of course, had a man mowed for all his relatives; it was not necessary to do so. In one instance a man had mowed for a neighbor who, while not a relative, was a great boon companion…. And the two strangers who had moved into the townland, in one case fifty years before, in the other thirty, had no relatives ‘on this side.’ One of these was man who had never got along with his neighbors, accused the whole townland of plotting against him, and was cordially disliked in return. The other had the help of a boy sent by a cousin in a near-by townland.
“The generic term ‘cooring’ is given to all non-monetary cooperation of this sort in many parts of Clare. The word is a direct borrowing from the Irish *comhair*, which is similarly used, originally meaning cotillage, now having the added meanings of alliance or partnership. But more interesting was the fact that the small farmers explained their cooring in terms of the ‘friendliness’ of the place. So, we shall see, the term ‘friendly’ is applied to the extended (and also immediate) relatives or ‘friends.’
“When asked especially why they were cooperating, the farmers’ answer was that they ‘had right to help.’ In general terms they would phrase it that ‘you have right to help friend,’ or again that ‘country people do be very friendly; they always help one another.’
“Now the phrase ‘have right’ is an expression in the brogue or English dialect spoken in Ireland (and in Clare) which, like ‘friendly,’ is a translation of a Gaelic idiom. It expresses an obligation, duty, or the traditional fitness of an act. The Gaelic word for which it is a substitute is *cóir*, and a bilingual countryman translates the Gaelic phrase is *cóir dom* (the obligation is on me) into ‘I have right to.’ The countrymen of Clare, at least, do not ordinarily use or understand the phrase ‘I am right’ to mean ‘what I have said is true.’ The countryman is explaining his economic acts in their traditional family setting as part of the reciprocities of act, sentiment, and obligation which make up family relationships….
“This aid is felt to be in the same category. Thus one farmer speaking of another, his second cousin, could say:
“‘He is the best friend we ever had; we can make bold on him. When the children were little and our cow died on us, Johnny sent down a cow and calf worth twelve pounds to us and didn’t want anything for it.’”
there’s that potential clannish dysgenics again. and notice how non-extended-family members are largely excluded from receiving aid.
by the 1960s, the first cousin marriage rates in ireland were down to below 1% of all marriages. still, extended families remained important to the irish in ireland even into the 1980s [pgs. 108-111]:
“Kinship obligations, on the other hand, do not fall only upon those living in the same house. The family unit has a paramount responsibility as regards the care of elders; there are other forms of assistance, however, that ciculate within the kinship network too but well beyond the boundaries of both nuclear and stem families. This is the case of baby-sitting services, which leads us back once again to the female domain. Relative, both kin and affines, take care of each other’s children quite frequently, and the closer they are the better….
“As we will see in the next chapter, the spheres of kinship and neighbourhood overlap on many occasions, but they are far from coincident. There is something distinctively unique in a blood relationship that no other form of arrangement can sustitute for. Take, for instance, the case of fosterage and adoption. No matter how popular these practices are in this region, the sort of fictive kinship that they create is never confused with the real blood relationship. This was so emphatically asserted to me that I cannot fail to note it here.“
previously: early and late medieval irish mating practices and clannish medieval ireland and inbreeding in europe’s periphery and early modern and modern clannish ireland and meanwhile, in ireland… and drinkin’ and fightin’ songs and inbreeding in ireland in modern times
(note: comments do not require an email. dingle peninsula.)